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Themesicon: navigation pathArt and Cinematographyicon: navigation pathDeserts of the Political
Political Whirlpools and Deserts: Michaelangelo Antonioni, Robert Smithson and Michael Snow
Tom Holert


«There is no longer a center of significance connected to expanding circles or an expanding spiral, but a point of subjectification constituting the point of departure of the line.» (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)[1]

Desert Years

Around 1970, interest in the desert was booming, though not simply because pictures of the moon s surface, documenting the existence of yet another desert, had had a sobering effect upon humanity. Rather, even as the moon s extra-terrestrial desert was undergoing colonialization, the Earth s deserts were being firmly inscribed on the collective imagination of global popular culture. In the late 1960s, spectacular earth works were constructed in the desert. Artists such as Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, or Robert Smithson had been working since 1968 on these projects, mostly in the deserts of California, Nevada, and Utah. Around 1970, rock musicians Jim Morrison or Gram Parsons, for instance took off for the desert, starting out from Los Angeles, the city that had always been haunted by the surrounding desert,


«by its emptiness, its inhospitality to life and the way it provides a refuge for freaks, cultists, and murderers.»[2] However it was once again first and foremost the cinema that was the cultural site where desert images positively exploded. The desert appeared in American biker and road movies, in science fiction films and surrealist cult flicks,[3] following the tracks of later desert dramas by John Ford or Howard Hawks. Once again, it represented a semantically ambiguous heterotopia of emptiness, death, temptation, and revelation, as well as unspoiled nature, purity, and reformation. A long religious and literary tradition, which had been an important, typically modern theme in the writings of nineteenth-century authors such as Nietzsche and Flaubert,[4] was continued in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Traditional concepts of the desert range throughout the semantic spectrum from «desertedness» (deserta) and «solitude» (solitudines) to «arena of sterility» (arena sterilis) and «vast wisdom» (vastitas). Armed with the appropriate metaphorical tools, interpreters approached the cinematic variants of these concepts of the desert. «The search for the archaic is the search for the beach

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